Crude oil prices fell for the third day in a row as the speculators who bid up prices so quickly last week drove them down just as rapidly.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil futures dropped another 80 cents a barrel to $45.25 -- down more than $4 a barrel from last week's peak.

Rapidly retreating oil prices eased worries that energy costs will crunch economic growth as two Federal Reserve officials issued reassuring comments that were widely circulated on Wall Street today.

Robert McTeer, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, called high petroleum prices "troublesome" for the economy but said he does not think they will slow growth.

Fed member Ben Bernank agreed that high oil prices "won't derail what looks like a self-sustaining expansion" and said he believes consumer spending is picking up

Their comments were reflected in a small recovery in retail stocks, which had slipped on Monday after Wal-Mart cautioned that August sales are running slower then expected.

The day's other economic news also was positive.

The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes slipped slightly in July, to a 9.7 million a year pace from 9.9 million in June.

The increase still leaves sales of previously owned houses on pace to hit an all time record this year. And the market could pick up, because July's numbers are based on sales that closed that month, which reflect offers made earlier. Since then, mortgage rates have moved back down.

None of the day's business and economic developments, however, were enough to create much excitement in the stock market.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index barely budged, gaining just half a point to 1,096.19. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell less than 2 points to 1,863.89. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed almost 26 points to 10,098.63.